By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Hundreds more across the region have been sickened by the flu, health officials said Monday.
As a result of the widespread flu activity, officials are asking people to stay away from local hospitals and long-term care facilities to prevent the further spread of the disease to high-risk patients.
Judy Bolton, RN, a public health nurse with the Mercer County Health Department, said the number of flu cases in Mercer County is still on the rise.
“The numbers are still going up,” Bolton said. “The numbers we get are just a sampling of the hospitals and doctor’s offices that report to us, so it could be higher, but we have about 457 cases reported to us this week, which is up 100 from last week. It was only around 350 this time last week.”
Bolton said local hospitals and long-term care facilities are also reporting flu outbreaks.
“We have seen a few flu outbreaks in some of the area’s long-term care facilities,” Bolton said. “We are asking people who are showing symptoms to not visit the hospital, nursing homes or long-term care facilities because you are endangering the lives of the people there. Do not send your children to school if they are exhibiting symptoms.”
Rick Hypes, a spokesperson with Princeton Community Hospital, said the hospital has asked people to refrain from visiting the hospital or coming to the emergency room unless absolutely necessary in light of the recent flu outbreak.
“Between Dec. 28 and Jan. 3 we had 210 flu or flu-like symptoms cases in our emergency room,” Hypes said. “Of course, not all of those were admitted. Most were simply treated and sent home. Since Dec. 28, there have been 40 confirmed cases come in. Most of those were either treated in emergency rooms or our physician’s offices. We are asking people to visit their family physician before coming to the emergency room if they are experiencing symptoms to protect everyone.”
Hypes said those with flu-like symptoms who visit the hospital could be risking the lives of high-risk patients.
“The patients are very vulnerable at that point, especially our cancer and high-risk patients,” he said. “We are asking no one come unless absolutely necessary. Anyone who does come will be asked to wear a mask and discouraged from going to the floors with patients. It is very important people not bring children to the hospital not just to protect the patients but because children are so vulnerable.”
Hypes said young children are also especially being impacted by the flu.
“We are trying to protect our patients and visitors,” Hypes said. “Our main concern is the children. It is very important children not visit the hospital at this time. In the last week we have had 25 cases of respiratory syncytial virus or RSV, which is a virus that impacts mostly infants and children under 2-years-old. That is a big concern.”
Additionally, four patients at Princeton Community have been hospitalized due to severe symptoms.
“It doesn’t seem like a high number but in the last year or two, we had almost no flu cases in the hospital,” Hypes said. “These four people were admitted because their cases were severe.”
Hypes said restrictions on visitations will be lifted when the number of reported flu cases begins to decrease.
“We will lift this when we see a decrease in flu-like symptoms,” he said. “This request is indefinite at this point until we can see that decrease, which will hopefully be very soon.”
Dr. Sue Cantrell, director of the Lenowisco Health District and acting director of the Cumberland Plateau Health District in Virginia, said Southwest Virginia is seeing the largest amount of flu activity in the Commonwealth.
“I think it’s clear that Southwest Virginia as a region saw increased flu activity ahead of much of the rest of the Commonwealth and the far Southwest counties are no exception,” Cantrell said. “Although now the state is reporting wide spread flu activity, we have seen higher flu-related visits, saw some bumps in cases of flu in various schools and other institutions in the district. Those ill individuals who tested positive for flu were largely found to have Influenza A H3. The vaccine this year has a strain of Influenza A H3 in it, that should afford some protection.”
Cantrell said she encourages residents to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“Vaccination is the best way to prevent flu and minimize complications from flu,” she said. “Everyone over six months should be vaccinated, whether they think they need it personally, they should protect frail and vulnerable folks with whom they are in contact. Stay at home when sick until at least 24 hours after fever resolves.”
— Contact Kate Coil at email@example.com